Memorial Day– A Day of Remembrance

This morning, our town held a Memorial Day Ceremony hosted by the American Legion-Post 39 and the Gilbert Historical Society.  It was held outside at the Gilbert Historical Museum in HD South.  My husband was the guest speaker for the ceremony.  It was an honor to be there to honor and remember all who have given their lives in service to our Great Nation.  And I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and the words he spoke to honor them.  May we never forget those who died keeping us free and my we always remember to honor them!

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Here is his speech, in honor of the men and women from all branches of our military who paid the ultimate price to keep us free-

“TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS”
– General John J. Pershing
MEMORIAL DAY 2019

Mayor, Councilmembers, distinguished guests, great patriots of the American Legion, fellow citizens and veterans of Gilbert, and to those among us who have an even deeper, more personal connection to this special day. It’s an honor to share this morning with all of you as we remember the fallen…… recognize their sacrifice…. and express our infinite gratitude to their families.

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” These are the words at the base of a large stone eagle located in the middle of an American military cemetery in France. I found myself reading them as I stood among thousands of American graves as I visited the St Mihiel cemetery almost 20 years ago. St Mihiel is just one among many of the dedicated resting places for those to whom we owe so much.

It’s incredible to think that over 1.2 million Americans have been lost in service to our great nation since those first days when the ink was still fresh on our founding documents. So many Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty across the globe. So, I want to take you on a short journey of remembrance this morning.

If we travel 7,000 miles to our west, to the Philippines and the Manilla American Cemetery, we will find 17,000 servicemembers laid at rest. A little closer, in Hawaii, we remember the over 2,300 servicemembers lost in December of 1941, including over 1,100 on the USS Arizona alone…those lost on the Arizona included 37 sets of brothers and also a father and son.

Across the United States, in the 151 national cemeteries as well as in community cemeteries and family plots we remember hundreds of thousands of fallen warriors…the bravest of the brave…geographically separated but eternally linked in their sacrifice.

As we journey to our nation’s eastern shore, just across the river from the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capitol, we come to Arlington National Cemetery…final resting place of so many of the fallen. At the epicenter of this most hallowed ground …. The Tomb of the Unknowns. Perpetually watched over by the Army’s Old Guard, a tradition they have maintained for over 70 years, the Tomb is a reminder …. A reminder of those lost in conflict that were never recovered or returned to their
families. Since WWI over 86,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are still listed as missing in action …… but it’s been said, and I’m certain all of us would agree, that a servicemember is only missing if they are forgotten….so today we also remember those American heroes who rest in unknown graves.

As we look across Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns, just downhill and towards a rising sun, we find Section 60, also known as the saddest acre in America. It is the final resting place for so many of those brave young men and women killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. It’s where you will find the still grieving Gold Star families and friends of those most recently lost. These graves aren’t as old as the others in the cemetery and it’s not uncommon to find a family member kneeling
next to their lost loved one’s headstone in silent prayer. It’s here that you will find Army Staff Sergeant Alex Conrad, a local Hamilton High School graduate and special operations soldier killed in the line of duty just last year. We especially honor the sacrifice of those families today.

As we continue to move farther east and cross the Atlantic, we find Western Europe and North Africa dotted with 21 American military cemeteries where over 100,000 Americans are buried.

At the Normandy American Cemetery, situated just uphill from that historic beach, we can walk among 9,300 graves of America’s bravest from WWII …… and a single grave from WWI.

It’s at Normandy, inscribed at the cemetery’s entrance pavilion, where we find the immortal words of Sergeant John Ellery who said … “You can manufacture weapons ….and you can purchase ammunition, ….but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.”

Among Normandy’s graves, we can find President Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest son, Ted Junior, who at 56 was the oldest to land during D-day. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on that beach but would not survive the war. As many of you know, he had been instrumental in the establishment of the American Legion after WWI. Ted had been gassed and wounded during the summer of 1918, then had returned to Europe to serve his nation again in a second world war.

At Normandy, Ted is buried right next to the only world war one grave in that cemetery. That grave belongs to his brother, and President Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin. Quentin had been killed in 1918 in aerial combat when he was only 20. He had been buried in an isolated gravesite until, a few years after the end of WWII, he was moved to the Normandy cemetery where he lies today, side by side with his brother.

As I mentioned earlier, it was just about 20 years ago that I found myself in France, about 300 miles to the east of Normandy. I was with my unit and we were participating in a combined military exercise.  While there, I made time to visit three local military cemeteries.

I first visited a French military cemetery to pay my respects. It was in a bit of disrepair….crumbling headstones and unkept grounds greeted my eyes……those young French soldiers had been forgotten.

Next, I came upon a German military cemetery…..and found a group of young military cadets doing their best to maintain those German graves, marked by metal crosses, so far from home. Their countrymen were remembered.

Last, I visited the American military cemetery at St Mihiel…over 40 beautifully landscaped acres containing 4,153 graves and a memorial to 284 missing in action. There I found a cemetery employee on his hands and knees moving from white marble headstone to white marble headstone along a perfectly aligned row of graves. Carefully, he sanded each to ensure they were a pristine white. I was
proud that the Americans buried there were not only remembered, they were cared for and honored each and every day. And on this day, we remember the sacrifice, often made in faraway lands, of our servicemembers.

At noon today, our flag will move from half to full staff and the memory of the fallen will be raised by the living. We will not let time dim the glory of their deeds but resolve that on this and all future Memorial Days to not let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and for a bold future… for our children……our grandchildren….. and for our great nation.

 

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Beauty Found in the Desert- A Daily Reminder

To many who have never visited or lived in Arizona, the state conjures up images of the desert, where life is difficult, and water is scarce.  Dry.  Dusty.  Brown.  Dead.  Much like the deserts depicted in Old Western Movies. 

As a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest where everything was green and there was plenty of water, the desert did not seem desirable.  Or livable.  As a young girl, all I could picture was a brown, dry, harsh environment where life was difficult and not much survived.  Much like my own life felt….

And then I visited Arizona the summer after my mother’s death.  My dad, 2nd stepmom, her daughter, my sister and I took a road trip from Washington, traveling south through Nevada to Arizona and then back to Washington via Hwy 101 through California and Oregon.  It was a long trip in a very hot car with the windows rolled up and cigarette smoke swirling through the air.  Thankfully we did not spend long days on the road, that would have been hell!  Us three girl’s road in the back seat together and took turns being the one in the middle, because the unlucky one who sat in the middle ended up with the other two laying on her while they slept…..yes, a very long road trip. 

The BEST part of the entire trip was the drive through and the stops in Arizona….the usual stops like the Grand Canyon and Phoenix and then the unexpected stops to see ancient ruins, enjoy a lunch along Oak Creek and a night in my favorite spot, Sedona. 

It was my first time in the southwest and I loved all the things we did and the places we saw in Arizona.  As we drove along the highway I would stare out the window, the others sleeping beside me.  I was mesmerized by the rocks, the shapes they formed, the colors all so varied and unique.  And I felt I would miss the beauty and natural art if I fell asleep.  Next to the ocean, Arizona became a favorite place. 

But it was the RED that drew me in.  The red in the rocks that contrasted beautifully against the blue sky and green of the pine trees.  The red in the dirt that stained my feet as we walked along the trails.  And the red of the sunset, that fire in the sky. 

Yes, I fell in love with the southwest that summer and though I did not live there, my heart desired to be free, living among the red that permeates this state. 

Nine years later, my husband, our oldest son and I drove through Arizona, stopping at the Grand Canyon and other National Parks, as well as historic sites along Interstate 40, heading east….we were on our way to his first Air Force assignment in North Dakota.  Again, I felt the pull, the longing to be in the southwest, to let my heart sing amid the red. 

We did not return to Arizona for another 24 years and it was a road trip that brought us back here.  Just my husband and I.  And it was that road trip that changed my husbands view of the state that had long ago captured my heart.  He, like so many others, thought it was just a brown, dry and dusty environment.  And he loves his trees, all the green of the northwest, and his mountains.  We drove to the Grand Canyon and then south through Flagstaff to Sedona, just so I could show him what I loved here.  He was surprised by the forests of pine trees.  He enjoyed Oak Creek… yes, there is water in this dry state!  And he began to see what I saw.  Yes, this mesmerizing place was drawing him in, too. 

And to my surprise, when he retired from the Air Force a few years later, my husband chose Arizona as one of the states we could live in…. and then we moved here.  He was still thinking that the Phoenix area would be flat and dusty…. and he was pleasantly surprised to see mountains around the valley. 

But the desert is a harsh environment.  It is dry here.  There is not much water.  It is HOT in the summer!  And yes it is dusty.  A very harsh environment where it can be hard for life of any type to survive, let alone thrive. 

But life does thrive here.  There is beauty in the desert.  What once looked dead, thrives when it rains.  Plants and animals adapt… not just surviving but thriving in this harsh environment. 

Here in the desert, in one of the harshest and at times ugliest environments, beauty grows, beauty shines, and life can thrive. 

Every place has its own beauty.  And though I love and miss the Pacific Northwest, I know I was born to live in Arizona. 

I was born to live in a place where I am reminded that despite the difficult challenges, despite the harsh environment, despite the lack at times of the components necessary to live and to grow, there is still life.  There is beauty among the spines and beauty in the dusty arid climate.  We just have to look for it.

The desert reminds me that we too, can bloom.  It reminds me that even those of us who have grown up in the harshest of environments, in abuse and neglect can still thrive.  The desert shows me every day that even without all the things needed to thrive, and with the thorns and spines that a challenging and harsh life has us growing in order to survive, we can still bloom where we are planted.  We can still thrive.  Despite the ugliness of the harshest life, there is still beauty.

It does not matter where my life began.  The loss, the abandonment, the challenges, the abuse… none of that keeps me from growing, blooming and shining.  Just like the wondrous and amazing life in the desert.

There is so much beauty in the harshest climates.  And when we look beyond the brown, beyond the dust, past the thorns and spines, we can see the beauty all around. 

Out of the harshest of environments, beauty shines. 

The desert is proof of that!

I am proof of that! 

 

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A Tale of Two Returned Letters

I have shared here on my blog about my adoption and the search for my birth family.  And I shared how I found my family and the reunions with them.  (Finding the Missing Pieces part 1, part 2 and part 3).  I am an adoptee and that is a part of my life story and a part of who I am.  And though I have found my family, there is still so much to learn, so many to get to know…. the journey continues through phone calls, in person gatherings, laughter and tears.  This month marks 8 years since I met my siblings and birth father in person.  In Finding the Missing Pieces part 2, I shared about meeting my birth father, how I forced my way into meeting him after he denied being my father three times.

The first denial was in the form of a letter, returned to me.  It was September 2002 and I had been waiting with breath held for an answer to a letter I had sent in August to the man I believed was my birth father.

aAnd then I received this letter in the mail.  An envelope addressed to me with his return address.  I held my breath…. Could it?  Would it give me the answers I was seeking?

And then opening it, my heart fell, hard, crashing into a million pieces.  Inside that envelope was my letter and my envelope, returned to me.  And on my letter was written-

b

I was devastated.  I cried.  And then I got angry.  My gut told me this was the right man because he did not want me to contact him again… and that was underlined to emphasize his wishes.  But my gut knew he was my birth father.  Why?  Because if he wasn’t he would have let me know in a kinder way and wished me well in my search, as others had done during my long search.  Underlining those words and sending me my letter and envelope told me there was much more to the story.

And I cried more.  The feelings of abandonment returned.  The feeling of having done something terrible came back in full force.  I was again that little girl who thought she had to have been horrible in order for her father to leave her and to not love her.  It had to be my fault.

It took me a really long time to get past this let down.  But I moved on.  Mostly.

And I continued to search for my siblings and my birth mother, while stopping the search for my birth father.  What was the point in searching for him, when I already knew where he was and that he wanted nothing to do with me?

My reaction to that letter was not a positive.  Despite finding a way to move on, the pain stayed with me until that day, May 9, 2011, when I finally met my birth father and he acknowledged me.

After finding my birth father, he called me many times.  We talked and he answered the questions I had.  He sent me pictures of my grandparents and of him as a child.  He sent me birthday cards.  He called on the anniversary of our meeting.  He said he loved me.  It was nice to have a relationship with him, even if it meant I could not call him and had to wait for him to call me.  He had a difficult marriage situation and he hid his relationship with his kids from his wife, calling from a cell she didn’t know about and using a post office box that we could send letters to so she wouldn’t see them.  I was okay with it, because I had a chance to meet him and the communication we had was a bonus.  Something I never expected.

Those few years of contact gave me time to heal.  I was still angry about him not giving me my birth mothers maiden name in 2002 when I first asked in that letter that he returned to me.  I was still angry because had he given me that info first time I asked, then I would have found my birth mother before she passed away.  But I couldn’t change what happened, so I learned to let it go and forgive him.

A lot had changed in me between the time I had received that returned letter and the day I met him.  I was healing and growing and learning to let go of what I could not control.

Eventually the calls from my birth father stopped.  It has been a couple of years now since I last heard from him.  The last few phone calls I had had from him were short and filled with questions about my older sister… had I heard from her?  What was going on with her?  And then he would have to go.  The calls to me stopped about the time she told him to not contact her any longer.

And it didn’t bother me.  I didn’t even notice he hadn’t called until a few months after my birthday a couple of years ago.  But I still sent him letters, Christmas cards and birthday cards.  I just wanted to let him know I was still here.  But I didn’t worry about and even wait for those calls or letters anymore.

I was okay without him.

cAnd then this past Christmas I sent him a card, like I have done the past few years.  And a couple of weeks letter it came back to me, marked return to sender.  Another returned letter.  But this time I didn’t cry.  I actually laughed.  Okay, I thought, he is finally done with his kids and moved on.  Instead of crying, instead of my heart crashing to the ground in a million pieces, I was fine.  I was okay.

My reaction to this second returned letter was a complete 360 from the first returned letter.  I was different and in a different place in my life when the second returned letter showed up in my mailbox.  I had finally realized that this was his issue, not that of any of his children.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I wasn’t horrible, I wasn’t unlovable.  He had the issues.  And he was the one missing out, not me.  He was missing out on knowing his daughter and his grandsons.  And I was not the only one he was missing….. he was the one missing out on relationships with his six children, all wonderful, unique and amazing individuals.  And he was missing out on the opportunity to know and enjoy ALL his grandkids.  THAT was his loss.  Not ours!  NOT MINE.

I am very grateful for the relationship we had while we had it, and grateful for the answers to my questions.  I will always have a place in my heart for my birth father, for the man who took care of me along with my mother, the first year of my life.  And I am thankful, every day, that he gave me the information I needed to find my birth mothers family… my family.  I am happy that I got to know him and that I was able to get those missing puzzle pieces from him.

And more than ANYTHING I am at PEACE with this last returned letter.

Two returned letters….. two different responses.  And a grateful heart!